Sex and sexual orientation disparities in adverse childhood experiences and early age at sexual debut in the United States: results from a nationally representative sample

Child Abuse Negl. 2015 Aug;46:89-102. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.02.019. Epub 2015 Mar 21.


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been linked to early sexual debut, which has been found to be associated with multiple adverse health outcomes. Sexual minorities and men tend to have earlier sexual debut compared to heterosexual populations and women, respectively. However, studies examining the association between ACEs and early sexual debut among men and sexual minorities are lacking. The aim of this study was to examine the sex and sexual orientation disparities in the association between ACEs and age at sexual debut. Data were obtained from Wave 2 of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Logistic and linear regression models were used to obtain crude and adjusted estimates and 95% confidence intervals adjusting for age, race/ethnicity, income, education, insurance and marital status for the association between ACEs (neglect, physical/psychological abuse, sexual abuse, parental violence, and parental incarceration and psychopathology) and early sexual debut. Analyses were stratified by sex and sexual orientation. Larger effect estimates depicting the association between ACEs and sexual debut were seen for women compared to men, and among sexual minorities, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM) and women who have sex with women (WSW), compared to heterosexuals. Sexual health education programs with a focus on delaying sexual debut among children and adolescents should also consider addressing ACEs, such as neglect, physical, psychological and sexual abuse, witnessing parental violence, and parental incarceration and psychopathology. Public health practitioners, researchers and sexual health education curriculum coordinators should consider these differences by sex and sexual orientation when designing these programs.

Keywords: Adverse childhood experiences; Bisexual; Heterosexual; MSM; Sexual debut; Sexual minority.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Coitus / psychology*
  • Exposure to Violence / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Prisoners
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States
  • Young Adult